The Wild West had several cemeteries called “Boot Hill” (or “Boots Hill” or “Boothill"), for those who “died with their boots on” (from violence). Hays, Kansas might have had the first “Boot Hill,” followed by Dodge City, Kansas and Tascosa, Texas. The term “boot hill” is used as the resting place for cowboys in many a western novel.
Wikipedia: Boot Hill
Boot Hill (or Boothill) is the name for any number of cemeteries, chiefly in the American West. During the 19th century it was a common name for the burial grounds of gunfighters, or those who “died with their boots on” (i.e., violently). Also, Boot Hill graves were made for people who died in a strange town without assets for a funeral, known more formally as pauper’s graves.
Boot Hill cemeteries can be found in a number of towns, including:
Bonanza, Custer County, Idaho
Canyon City, Oregon
Dodge City, Kansas
El Paso, Texas
Idaho City, Idaho
Virginia City, Nevada
Riley Camp, Quay County, New Mexico
Seney Township, Michigan
Deadwood, South Dakota
Tascosa, Oldham County, Texas
Virginia City, Montana
Boot Hill was also the name given by the prisoners to the cemetery at the Japanese-run Batu Lintang POW and civilian internment camp in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo during World War II
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Boot Hill U.S., a graveyard or cemetery (orig. joc. of a frontier cemetery, in allusion to its occupants’ dying with their boots on);
[1886 Outing Jan. 398/2 Within the rail fence of ‘Boot-heel Cemetery’, at Flagstaff, my stopping-place, there were fourteen graves.]
1901 Everybody’s Mag. June 582/2 Occasionally his six-shooter brought order and a new grave or two in *Boot Hill cemetery.
(Dictionary of American Regional English)
boot hill n [In the frontier West the name for the town cemetery for men who supposedly died with their boots on] joc
Orig a cemetery for men who died by violence; now, any cemetery.
(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
Boot Hill n. [alluding to die with (one’s) boots on S.V. BOOT] West. a cemetery for those who have died by violence, as by hanging or in gunfights.—often used as proper name. Also (rarely) Boots Hill. Now hist.
1877 in R.M. Wright Dodge City 144: Dodge boasts of two burying spots, one for the tainted...who have generally died with their boots on. “Boot Hill” is...[its] title.
1877 in Miller & Snell Why the West Was Wild 7: “Boot-Hill” is the somewhat singular title applied to the burial place of the class just mentioned [in Dodge City].
Handbook of Texas Online
TASCOSA, TEXAS. Tascosa, on the Canadian River in northeastern Oldham County, was named for Atascosa (Spanish for “boggy") Creek, which flows into the river at the site of the original settlement. In 1876 the creek valley was first settled and was named Plaza Atascosa by Hispanic pastores under Casimero Romero. These sheepmen and freighters from New Mexico grazed their flocks and built adobe huts and irrigation ditches along the creeks in the area. Their settlement, 300 miles northwest of the line of settlements in 1875, and on the cattle trail through the Panhandle to Dodge City (see TASCOSA-DODGE CITY TRAIL), was on the Canadian River at the site of an easy ford for cattle and freight. Romero and most of his followers remained in the vicinity until the late 1880s and 1890s, when most of them drifted with their sheep back to New Mexico. The few who remained switched to cattle. After 1875 large ranches dominated the area, and Tascosa became the shipping and supply point for the LIT, LX, LS, Frying Pan, and XIT ranches. Henry Kimball, the first Anglo settler in the Tascosa area, set up his blacksmith shop in 1876. A general store and saloon were also established. Before a post office was opened at Tascosa, “Dad” Barnes carried the town’s mail to Dodge City. With the organization of Oldham County in 1880, Tascosa became the county seat. Saloons and dance halls sprang up, and a stone courthouse was built. Caleb Berg (Cape) Willingham, the first sheriff of the county, shot the man who occupied the first grave in Boot Hill Cemetery. As the Cowboy Capital of the Plains, Tascosa had more than its share of conflicts settled by fast guns. Noted outlaws, including Henry McCarty (Billy the Kid) and Dave Rudabaugh, walked its streets, as did lawmen Pat Garrett, Charles A. Siringo, and others. Conflicts developed on the large ranches in 1883, when Tascosa became the scene of an unsuccessful cowboys’ strike for higher wages. Charles Francis Rudolph began a weekly newspaper, the Tascosa Pioneer, in the summer of 1886.
In the 1980s the stone courthouse at old Tascosa housed a museum, and Boothill Cemetery remained as a reminder of the wild days.
Handbook of Texas Online
TASCOSA-DODGE CITY TRAIL. Tascosa, on the sandy flats above the Canadian River in Texas, and Dodge City, on the hills above the Arkansas River in Kansas, were the liveliest cowtowns in the West during the 1880s. The economic link that made them sister cities was the cattle trade; the physical link was the Dodge City-Tascosa Trail. Tascosa was almost totally supplied by freighters from Dodge hauling huge quantities of supplies for surrounding Panhandle ranches. Each of the larger stores in Tascosa freighted in 25,000 to 50,000 pounds of merchandise each month. As late as 1888 the Tascosa Pioneer noted that 119,000 pounds of freight had been delivered during the previous week
Wikipedia: Hays, Kansas
Hays is a city in Ellis County, Kansas, near the intersection of Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 183. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 20,013. It is the county seat of Ellis County.
Hays is home to Fort Hays State University and the Hays Larks, champions of the Jayhawk Collegiate League for most of the 20th century. It is the childhood hometown of billionaire Philip Anschutz and current home of 1st District Congressional Representative Jerry Moran.
The city of Hays was incorporated in 1867, close to the site of Fort Hays. In the early days, Hays was a wild and lawless town, filled with saloons and dance halls. The legendary Wild Bill Hickok served as sheriff for a few months in 1869, but left town the next year after a brawl with some troopers from Fort Hays. Summing up her impression while her husband, George Custer, was encamped near Fort Hays, Elizabeth Custer said, “there was enough desperate history in that little town in one summer to make a whole library of dime novels.” Between August of 1867 and December of 1873 there were over 30 homicides in and around Hays. Hays developed the reputation, which was well deserved, as one of the most violent towns on the Kansas Frontier. The original Boot Hill was located in Hays, not Dodge City as many people believe. In fact, when Dodge City was founded in 1872, the Hays City Boot Hill was well populated. Mrs. Custer noted in her diary in the summer of 1869 there were already 36 graves in the cemetery called “Boot Hill”. The Hays Boot Hill is actually the oldest west of the Mississippi.
Making of America
March 1880, Scribners Monthly, pg. 775:
I know not what impulse led our unintentional steps from the cottage to Boot Hill again, nor can I tell why it was that, once there, we went straight to where they had told us this woman was buried;...
Our Wild Indians
by Richard Irving Dodge
Hartford, CT: A. D. Worthington and Co.
Julesburg [Julesburg, CO—ed.] was celebrated for its desperadoes. No twenty-four hours passed without its contribution to Boots Hill (the cemetery whose every occupant was buried in his boots), and homicide was performed in the most genial whole-souled way, the shooter and shootee smiling pleasantly in each other’s faces.
17 May 1883, Wheeling (WV) Register, pg. 1:
Dodge City has a little private cemetery known far and wide by the name of Boot Hill. It receives its appellation from the fact that only those who die with their boots on find a resting place therein, and from present indications Short may probably take up his abode in this unattractive city of the dead.
26 September 1883, Daily Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, NE), pg. 4, col. 4:
The cool wind swept down from the mountains through the pines, but “Poker Bill” cursed himself with exceeding bitterness because he had failed to add a fifteenth grave to the little “Boot Hill Cemetery” near the corral, where eleven out of the fourteen dead came to their deaths by violence.
11 June 1885, Sioux County Herald, (Orange City, Iowa), pg. 1, col. 4:
Ellis county comes next, with Hays City, a bright new town with a population of 1,000, for its county seat. Near this town is a hill called “Boot hill,” for the reason that forty-eight men were buried there with their boots on, all of them murdered or killed in some affray. That was in early days when there was little or no town there.
13 January 1888, Lima (OH) Democratic Times, pg. 3, col. 4:
Graves of “Boot Hill.”
Within a quarter of a mile of Hays City, near old Fort Hays, is a little elevation called Boot hill. On the border, a man who met a violent death was said to have died with his boots on. In the early days of Hays City such deaths were frequent, and all such victims were interred on the slope of the little mound, which thus earned the name of Boot hill. Today there are to be seen on Boot hill the slightly marked graves of forty-five men who perished “with their boots on.”—New York Sun.
Through Texas: A Series of Interesting Letters
by Walter Barlow Stevens
special correspondent of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat
IN THE PANHANDLE OF TEXAS, August 7.—There hasn’t been an interment on Boot Hill for more than two years. (...) Boot Hill is a sightly knoll a little way out of Tascosa. Only those who died with their boots on were entitled to a place on the hill. Life was too practical in the Panhandle to encourage the erection of elaborate monuments. A board was deemed sufficiently permanent. On it was inscribed enough to remind the friends and to warn the enemies of the deceased. Many of the boards have fallen down or have disappeared. Perhaps they lasted long enough to serve their double purpose.
Making of America
December 1897, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, pg. 81:
“Beat the drum slowly,
Play the fife lowly,
Sound the death march as you bear me along.
Take me to Boot Hill, and throw the sod over me—
I’m but a poor cowboy, I know I done wrong.”
4 May 1973, Great Bend (KS) Tribune, pg. 3, col. 2:
Hays Boot Hill predates
that of old Dodge City
HAYS, Kan. (AP)—The memorial park which is to be dedicated here today on the site of the original Boot Hill, predates the better known cemetery of that name at Dodge City and had many more occupants, say local historians.
(...) (Col. 5—ed.)
The noted Gen. George A. Custer was stationed at nearby Camp Sturgis the summer of 1869 and his wife, who wrote about the area in a book, said:
“It was at Hays City that the graveyard was begun with interments of men who died violent deaths and there were 36 of their graves before we left. The citizens seemed to think no death worthy of mention unless it was that of someone who had died ‘with his boots on.’ There was enough desperate history in the little town in that one summer to make a whole library of dime novels.”
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